How to Pass the Wilderness Test

canstockphoto1287619Between Egypt and the Promised Land there was wilderness, and the direct route between them was also the shortest route. This northern route near the Mediterranean Sea was also the route to take if you needed to eat off the land and have fresh water to drink.

But that’s not the route God led the Israelites to take. Instead, he had them take a right turn and head south toward a dry, mountainous region that supported few inhabitants.

There wasn’t much to eat, so God had to provide food each morning; there wasn’t water, so God had to provide water as well. He was trying to teach them to trust him in the wilderness.

God knew that if they wouldn’t trust him in the wilderness, they wouldn’t trust him in the Promised Land.

There’s a word right there. If you don’t trust God in the wilderness, you won’t trust him in the Promised Land. If you won’t trust God when things are difficult in your life, you aren’t going to trust him when things are going well.

It’s easy to think the opposite, that being blessed with success and prosperity leads to gratitude and increased faithfulness, while wandering around in the wilderness would lead to grumbling like Israelites.

Especially when you are in the wilderness through no fault of your own. Like when a natural disaster like a flood or a tornado hits, or your husband is unfaithful, or a changing economy causes you to lose your job because it’s been outsourced to some person in Pakistan.

It’s natural in such situations that you would question God and his faithfulness to you.

And like Job’s wife you just want to curse God and die.

But here’s the thing: prosperity makes you lazy. It makes you complacent. It gives you the illusion that you are independent and don’t need others, that you did it all on your own and earned your success.

Prosperity can makes you judgmental. “What’s wrong with all these other lazy people? If they would just take personal responsibility for their lives they wouldn’t be struggling so much.”

More than anything, prosperity removes the need for faith in your life. When you can provide for yourself everything you need and much of what you don’t need but just want really, really bad, there’s no need for faith. You don’t have to look to God for much.

Faith becomes unnecessary, and worship becomes just one option among the many things that you can do on a weekend.

What’s that old saying? “There are no atheists in a foxhole.” I imagine that’s true. What’s also true is that there aren’t many atheists among the poor.

Atheism is a luxury only the rich can afford.

It’s when you are going through a wilderness that faith is, if not inevitable, at least more accessible. You need faith, because it’s the only thing that you’ve got. People in the wilderness cling to faith and a hope that things will get better, if only because it’s hard to imagine that things could get worse.

But just because faith is more accessible doesn’t mean it’s automatic. The wilderness is a testing ground to see whether or not you can handle the Promised Land.

In the Bible, the wilderness is usually indicative of a time of testing. So is the number 40. If you see the two things together, it’s a slam dunk.

How long were the Israelites in the wilderness? 40 years. Yep, time of testing.

Before Jesus embarked on his ministry, he was tested in the wilderness for forty days.

Mark says that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tested. The Holy Spirit didn’t lead Jesus into the wilderness: “Hey, come on, follow me.” He didn’t suggest that Jesus go into the wilderness: “You know, it might be a good idea if you went in the wilderness and worked through ahead of time all the temptations you are going to be faced with in your ministry.”

No, the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness.

No one volunteers to go into the wilderness for testing, not even Jesus.

But it’s necessary. You aren’t ready for the spiritual trial that comes with success until you’ve successfully navigated the spiritual trials of the wilderness.

Going straight into the Promised Land will lead to apostasy; you need the refining power of the wilderness to get you ready.

God leads the Hebrews into the wilderness to get them ready for the flowing milk and honey, and for the most part they keep failing the tests that come their way, so much so that an entire generation has to die off before they are ready for the Promised Land.

The first generation out of Egypt never got to the point where they could handle the Promised Land; when things got tough, they longed for “the good old days” when they had food, water, clothing and shelter back in Egypt.

When you’re in the wilderness, even slavery looks good. That’s the temptation you have to guard against.

A new generation had to arise that had nothing to look back on; they only had the Promised Land to look forward to.

Beware those feelings of wanting to go back to when things were “great.” Even if you could go back, you’d be going back to slavery.

But you can’t go back; and in looking back, you guarantee you will never enter the Promised Land but will die in the wilderness.

If God leads you into the wilderness, it’s only because he wants you to be faithful in the Promised Land. And that is something to look forward to.

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / aorlemann

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